The man accused of killing five Capital Gazette staff members had threatened the newspaper in 2013 and continued to pepper social media with dark and often profane warnings. But until Thursday, the attacks had been only words.
Anne Arundel County State’s Attorney Wes Adams said Ramos’s actions, including barricading a back door so that people could not escape and his “tactical approach of hunting down and shooting the innocent victims,” was evidence of a “coordinated attack.”
On Friday, a judge ordered that Ramos, 38, remain in custody and be held without bond on five counts of murder as Ramos appeared via a video feed from a detention center. At the bond hearing, Adams called Ramos an “overwhelming threat and danger to our community.”
The threats in 2013 came amid a lawsuit Ramos filed accusing the paper of defaming him through a column describing his pleading guilty to harassing a woman over social media. The defamation case was dismissed.
Ramos’s obsession with a former Arundel High School classmate, which started with his making contact on Facebook in late 2009 or early 2010, caused at least two criminal charges and three peace orders to be lodged against him and probably cost him his job with the Bureau of Labor Statistics in the summer of 2014.
The Capital Gazette and its lawyer had reported threats made in May 2013 and spoke with a detective who investigated. The newspaper decided not to pursue criminal charges because it might “exacerbate” the situation, Anne Arundel County Police Chief Timothy J. Altomare said Friday during a news conference.
Until 2016, when courts rejected a last round of his many appeals, Ramos pursued his claim that he had been wronged by the paper. And he took to Twitter to call out the people he insisted had wronged him.
Over a four-year span, from late 2011 to early 2016, Ramos waged a social media campaign against the Capital Gazette. He tweeted at the newspaper’s official account, @capgaznews, 149 times. He mentioned the name of the columnist — Eric Hartley — 101 times, and a dozen times named Thomas Marquardt, the paper’s former editor.
“I’ll enjoy seeing @capgaznews cease publication, but it would be nicer to see Hartley and Marquardt cease breathing,” he posted on Feb. 2, 2015.
He also repeatedly referred to the 2015 Charlie Hebdo shooting in Paris, where al-Qaeda-affiliated gunmen killed 12 people and injured 11 others at the offices of the French satirical newspaper.
Explaining Friday to a judge why Ramos should remain in custody, Adams said Ramos worked his way through the newsroom, shooting victims along the way. “There was one victim that attempted to escape through the back door but was shot,” he told the judge. Ramos also used smoke grenades, police said.
Four journalists and a sales associate for the Capital Gazette were killed, and two people suffered what police called minor injuries. The shootings are believed to be the deadliest attack on journalists in the United States.
On Friday, the opinion page of the Capital Gazette read, “Today we are speechless.”
It went on, “This page is intentionally left blank today to commemorate victims of Thursday’s shooting at our office.”
The victims were Gerald Fischman, Rob Hiaasen, John McNamara, Rebecca Smith and Wendi Winters. Fischman and Hiaasen were editors, McNamara was a reporter, Smith was a sales assistant and Winters worked for special publications, according to the newspaper’s website.
The two people injured were likely hit by broken glass, according to officials.
Ramos appeared in the video feed in court in a blue, V-neck jail uniform. He said nothing and stared expressionless at the camera. Heis unemployed and lives alone, according to testimony..
Police said that after a search of his Laurel apartment Thursday, they found evidence, which they did not detail, showing that he had planned the attack.
Ramos acted alone, driving a rental car to the newspaper office, police said. Three minutes before the gunfire, he tweeted an obscenity at a judge who had rejected his defamation suit against the paper.
Within about a minute of entering the newsroom in response to reports of a shooter, police found Ramos hiding beneath a desk, authorities said. No gunfire was exchanged, they said.
Ramos had no wallet or other identification on him at the time of his arrest, according to charging documents filed against him. Officials said Ramos was identified in part by the use of a facial-recognition system after he was in custody.
President Trump addressed the shooting Friday, calling it a “horrific, horrible thing” that “shocked the conscience of our nation and filled our hearts with grief.”
“Journalists, like all Americans, should be free from the fear of being violently attacked while doing their job,” Trump said.
The president has previously called the news media “the enemy of the American people.” He has also repeatedly referred to the media as “Fake News” and has also called the media “the opposition party in many ways.”
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) commended the quick police response and ordered Maryland flags to be flown at half-staff.
Annapolis paused Friday evening as hundreds of mourners walked in procession from the Maryland State House to the docks to honor the dead. Diners left restaurants to join. Fathers put arms around daughters and strangers gave each other tissues. A bagpiper played “Amazing Grace.” Capital Gazette staffers embraced as they recited the names of the slain.
And as darkness fell and candles flickered in the crowd, those who survived to publish Friday’s Capital received applause. Then came a minute of silence.
“I just hope this will lead to something,” said 40-year Annapolis resident George Oliphant. “To see it in this town . . . ” he said.
The Capital Gazette, Annapolis’s daily newspaper, is widely read in Maryland’s capital and in surrounding Anne Arundel County. The paper has an editorial staff of 31, and had a daily circulation of about 29,000 and a Sunday circulation of 34,000 as of 2014.
Ramos seemed to carry a grudge for years against the Gazette after he was the subject of a column describing how he harassed a former classmate from Arundel High, first on Facebook and then through emails. In the column written by Eric Hartley, the woman described how Ramos had stalked her online and perhaps caused her to lose her job.
The former classmate told Hartley that her online interactions with Ramos turned nasty in 2010, that he wrote things to her such as, “have another drink and go hang yourself, you cowardly little lush.” She told Hartley that she believed she was laid off from her job at a bank because of Ramos’s contacts with her employers, and she first contacted police about Ramos in September 2010.
The woman, now 38 and living out of state, did not respond to messages Friday seeking comment. Brennan McCarthy, her lawyer, also did not respond to messages. Hartley, now an editor at the Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, declined to be interviewed.
When Ramos resumed contacting the woman in January 2011, she went to the police again, obtaining two misdemeanor criminal harassment charges and a peace order prohibiting him from contacting her. Ramos pleaded guilty in July 2011 to harassment.
Ramos then created a website that detailed his complaints against Hartley and the newspaper.In July 2012, Ramos filed the defamation suit against the Capital Gazette, Hartley and Marquardt. On Twitter, he posted a letter to Marquardt which read, “You’ve crippled my life for a year, and now I’m going to cripple your company forever.”
His suit was thrown out in March 2013 during a hearing in which he told the judge, “Your Honor, this has become my life.” The judge asked, “What has become your life, sir?” Ramos replied, “This action.”
His attempts to take the case to the state supreme court were finally shut down in 2016.
The police chief told reporters that the decision not to pursue charges against Ramos in 2013 was not a misstep by the department.
“Every day, we talk to people who don’t want to make charges,” Altomare said. “I don’t feel the department was negligent in any way.”
In an interview Friday, Marquardt recalled feeling threatened by Ramos’s posts but said that after police investigated, there wasn’t much else he could do. Marquardt made sure the receptionist in the Capital Gazette’s building at the time had a picture of Ramos at her desk, in case he showed up at the office. The staff had the picture, too.
“It was the talk of the newsroom,” he said. “Everyone in the newsroom knew the guy.”
Marquardt even showed the photo to his wife, in case Ramos knocked on their front door. For years, Marquardt assumed their approach had worked.
“We all thought the problem went away,” he said. “What provoked it now is beyond me.”
Meanwhile, Ramos was working at the Bureau of Labor Statistics, overseeing network security, according to one of his court filings. In 2013, he had been hired by a private contractor, Enterprise Information Systems of Vienna, Va., to work at the BLS.
But in July 2014, the BLS asked that he be fired, according to a letter Ramos filed in D.C. Superior Court. He was told that there was a “suitability concern” and that “something has come to light,” though he was not told what that was, Ramos wrote in a demand for pay from Enterprise. A court awarded him the pay.
Ramos graduated in 2006 with a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering from Capitol College, now Capitol Technology University, in Laurel.
Investigators are still piecing together exactly how Thursday’s shooting unfolded.
Shortly after the attack, Gazette reporter Phil Davis posted this message on Twitter: “There is nothing more terrifying than hearing multiple people get shot while you’re under your desk and then hear the gunman reload.”
Sgt. Amy Miguez, an Annapolis Police spokeswoman, said that early Thursday, she received a text message from Davis about a story.
At 2:41, Davis texted Miguez again and wrote: “Help. Shooting at office.”
At first Miguez thought it was a joke and again suggested a call to l county police, because they have jurisdiction at the Gazette offices.
Davis quickly responded that he could not call and that he was trying to stay as quiet as possible. Miguez said she immediately dialed 911 and gave the location of the paper to report the shooting.
Keith L. Alexander, Ashley Halsey III, Dana Hedgpeth, Peter Hermann, Arelis R. Hernández, Reis Thebault, Rachel Siegel, Clarence Williams, Peter Jamison and Martin Weil contributed to this report.